From Animatronics to Forensic Computing
I have enjoyed reading the current issue of ASEE PRISM magazine; in particular, the article on Breakthroughs and Trends in the World of Technology pages 8 to 13 on the December 2018 issue. Animatronics – the Broadway making of King Kong, a 1939 classic movie; Liquid Sunshine – Swedish research on energy storage in a liquid form for up to 18 years!; Quantum Devices – British-defense funded research on developing navigation devices that do not rely on GPS; Targeted Medicine – Max Planck Institute’s research to deliver medicines to the retina using microscopic glass corkscrews and microscopic robots; Machine Learning – Creating artwork using artificial intelligence; Extraterrestrial Messaging – Sending signals to faraway corners into deep space ( do we really need to expand our social network from what we have on planet earth?); Forensic Computing – machine-learning algorithms combing through Medicare datasets for potential fraud cases.
These are exciting times, indeed, for engineering!
Wisdom of Crowds
Having recently completed reading two books on diversity, I am compelled to put together these thoughts. Our success in learning is dependent to a large extent on cognitive diversity, in addition to ethnic diversity. When faculty and students fully recognize that “collective diversity trumps individual ability,” as Scott Page puts it by way of decoding his research, diversity makes bigger sense. Consider the following simple conclusions from research on group intelligence (Len Fisher, The Perfect Swarm):
- When answering a state estimation question, the group as a whole will always outperform most of its individual members. Not sometimes. Always.
- If most of the group members are moderately well-informed about the facts surrounding a question to which there are several possible answers (but only one correct one), the majority opinion is almost always bound to be right. If each member of a group of one hundred people has a 60 percent chance of getting the right answer, for example, then a rigorous mathematical formulation proves that the answer of the majority has a better than 99 percent chance of being the correct one.
- Even when only a few people in a group are well-informed, this is usually sufficient for the majority opinion to be the right one.
In the areas of problem solving and prediction, our collective differences are as important as how good and able we are individual. These differences grouped under cognitive diversity are: knowledge – specifically, a range of different areas of relevant knowledge within the group; perspectives – different ways of viewing a problem; interpretations – different ways of categorizing a problem or partitioning perspectives; heuristics – different ways of generating solutions to problems; predictive models – different ways of inferring cause and effect (Len Fisher, The Perfect Swarm) .
14 grand challenges for engineering in the 21st century
I’m so glad that our Chancellor, Dr. Dan Arvizu (ME ‘73), highlighted the 14 grand challenges for engineering in his acceptance speech as the 2018 Ingeniero Eminente of NMSU Engineering. These grand challenges, which were identified by an international group of leading technological thinkers brought together by the National Academy of Engineering, fall into four cross-cutting themes of sustainability, health, security and joy of living. It’s important that all of us spend some time wondering if and where our expertise and interests fall among these disciplines:
|1. Advance personalized learning||8. Secure cyberspace|
|2. Make solar energy economical||9. Provide access to clean water|
|3. Enhance virtual reality||10. Provide energy from fusion|
|4. Reverse-engineer the brain||11. Prevent nuclear terror|
|5. Engineer better medicines||12. Manage the nitrogen cycle|
|6. Advance health informatics||13. Develop carbon sequestration methods|
|7. Restore and improve urban infrastructure||14. Engineer the tools of scientific discovery|
— Engineering Dean (@reddi_lakshmi) December 8, 2018
“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.” – EO Wilson
Two metaphors have helped me in trying to visualize the “Consilience” Wilson is championing. First, the metaphor of a rose flower in its natural state contrasted with all of its petals bound together by a rubber band. It is a powerful visual to suggest the difference between synergistic presentation and putting things together. Second, the metaphor of a chick breaking out of its enclosed world in a shell and entering a wider world of perceptions. Disciplinary identity and boundaries are needed in the early stages of comprehension and learning, like a shell is needed in the formative stages of a growing chick. However, just as the shell needs to be broken for further growth of the chick, the disciplinary boundaries need to be transcended by a learner to reach higher stages of learning.
Aggie Innovation Space Receives Support on Giving Tuesday
I am pleased and honored that NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu, mechanical engineering alum, and his wife, Sheryl, have chosen the Aggie Innovation Space for their support. The $250,000 gift they pledged will help the Aggie Innovation Space in its efforts to engage students, not only from engineering but from all colleges, in experiential learning and allow them to interact with faculty researchers and industry professionals. By providing a community-style of engagement, Aggie Innovation Space activities are expected to improve student retention at NMSU. I am confident that this pledge will encourage other alumni and local industries to be engaged in the activities of this valued resource and provide further support.
— Engineering Dean (@reddi_lakshmi) November 27, 2018
NMSU Engineering Gains Visibility in South India
With our focus on increasing master’s-level students and establishing collaborations with key engineering colleges in South India, I have completed my week-long trip to Vijayawada, the new Capital City of Andhra Pradesh. Thanks to Dr. Kumar, our liaison and coordinator for Indian universities, NMSU engineering gained quite a bit of newspaper and TV coverage. Our signing of Memoranda of Understanding with eight colleges was televised to an audience of approximately 18 million people. All major Telugu (local language) newspapers and one national English (Hindu) newspaper covered the unique strengths and opportunities available at NMSU. In a 14-minute television interview, I was able to address Indian students and their parents about the degree and research programs available at NMSU and about their uniqueness and relevance to Indian students. I was accompanied by Dean Rolando Flores, College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and by Luis Cifuentes, vice president of research and graduate school dean, who focused on agricultural and other research collaboration opportunities.
Last week, we shared a photo of Lakshmi Reddi, dean of engineering, catching his flight to India. These are some photos from Luis Cifuentes, VP for research and dean of graduate school, from the trip and work that is being done. #NMSUengineering #NMSUaces pic.twitter.com/z3y4RvbK3Y
— NMSU Engineering (@nmsu_engineer) November 2, 2018
Where were your songs, my bird, when you spent your nights in the nest?
There was a beautiful poem belonging to Mediaeval India, recited by Tagore, which not only describes function of poetry but also allows us to draw out an analogy with what a scientific mind creates. The poem contains question and answer:
Where were your songs, my bird, when you spent
your nights in the nest?
Was not all your pleasure stored therein?
What makes you lose your heart to the sky, the
sky that is limitless?
The bird answers:
I have my pleasure while I rested within bounds.
When I soared into the limitless, I found my songs!
Using this poem, Tagore describes the function of poetry as a detachment of an individual idea from its confinement of everyday facts and to give its soaring wings the freedom of the universal. Isn’t this the purpose of creative interdisciplinary research as well? – detaching from the confines of disciplinary boundaries and allowing our imagination to soar into the limitless reality?
Virtues of Learning Community
I have enjoyed reading about the virtues of a learning community presented by Parker Palmer in his The Heart of Higher Education:
- We invite diversity into our community not because it is politically correct but because diverse viewpoints are demanded by the manifold mysteries of great things.
- We embrace ambiguity not because we are confused or indecisive but because we understand the inadequacy of our concepts to embrace the vastness of great things.
- We welcome creative conflict not because we are angry or hostile but because conflict is required to correct our biases and prejudices about the nature of great things.
- We practice honesty not only because we owe it to one another but because to lie about what we have seen would be to betray the truth of great things.
- We experience humility not because we have fought and lost but because humility is the only lens through which great things can be seen – and once we have seen them, humility is the only posture possible.
- We become free men and women through education not because we have privileged information but because tyranny in any form can be overcome only by invoking the grace of great things.
The great things Palmer was referring to in these virtues are the subjects around which truth-seekers gather to know, to teach, and to learn.
Engineering alum helps build student leadership
Engineering today is a team-based, multidisciplinary endeavor that requires skills beyond technical abilities, but also the ability to work with diverse groups of people, communicate effectively and develop entrepreneurial skills.
I am pleased to announce that a donation from engineering alum Ron Seidel, will help students develop those essential “soft skills” with the launch of the Ron Seidel Engineering Leadership Institute this coming spring.
A group of 20 students will be selected to be the first cohort in the two-year, self-paced program that includes professional training in leadership, communication, wellbeing and time management, and community engagement. They will work with mentors and attend professional development, leadership and communication seminars and workshops. They will apply their skills through community service and recruiting projects. Seidel’s gift will provide participating students with stipends, funding for books and supplies and travel to conferences. It will also support distinguished lectures from well-known leaders in engineering fields.
Engineering isn’t just about numbers, designs, and materials—it’s about leadership. One of the key attributes to becoming a leader in engineering practice, is to bring together teams from various disciplines, communicate, make decisions, be self-directed, and ethical. We are grateful that Ron Seidel knows the importance of leadership in engineering and is generously supporting this critical focus for our students.
We’re proud of our distinguished alum, Ms. Dion Messer (BSEE, ’84)
Dion’s career path started out as a communications engineer with a NASA contractor at White Sands Missile Range. With a Master’s degree from UT Austin, Dion became recognized worldwide as a digital signal processing expert who co-invented nine U.S. patents and authored numerous peer-reviewed IEEE publications.
What makes Dion unique is that she moved on to get a law degree at UT School of Law and has led a successful career defending a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning 9-0, while creating a patent portfolio of more than 150 patents in less than five years. With her service on the NMSU Foundation Board of Directors, and her philanthropic support to NMSU, Dion serves as an outstanding role model for our students.
Dion Messer (BSEE ‘84) is our 2018 Distinguished Alum. As someone who has shown an engineer could be a good lawyer as well, and as one who had a brilliant career, she serves as an outstanding role model to our students. pic.twitter.com/tgFtsOHFMw
— Engineering Dean (@reddi_lakshmi) October 8, 2018
Remembering Dr. John W. Hernandez
Recently, the college held a celebration of life for John w. Hernandez. Hearing about his life deeply inspired me. He was a professor, department chair and dean of engineering at NMSU, as well as an athlete, politician, EPA appointee under Ronald Regan. He was also the embodiment of what we call student-centric: taking student calls at all hours for homework assistance, recruiting at high schools, editing student papers, etc. There has been some amazing talent at this college: Hernandez, Dad Jett, Ralph Goddard, Frank Bromilow. Their attributes are something that we should strive for today.
Leisure time is important to our mission
Do you find leisure to do some real thinking?
Rabindranath Tagore, the great poet and Nobel Laureate of India, puts poetically the requirement of leisure for perception of truth:
“It [truth] has its atmosphere of infinity in a width of leisure across which come invisible messengers of life and light, bringing their silent voices of creation.” (Tagore, Selected Essays, Page 321).
I have not seen anything more powerful than this to describe the need for leisure if we are to engage in creative and scholarly activities. In a rush to produce, and get it over with’ we often miss golden opportunities to interact with the voices of creativity within and external.
We have a lot going on in CoE at NMSU, but let’s find some leisure now and then, interact with each other, and have fun along the way.
Learning: The common denominator in everything we do on campus
Seeking higher levels of learning in a community setting is an opportunity that is exclusive to land-grant institutions. It is indeed the collective purpose of teaching, research, outreach and service, often presented as mutually exclusive activities. Both freshmen and advanced research faculty share the common ground of seeking higher levels of learning; it is perhaps no accident that we use comparative degrees to refer to our enterprise as higher education, and we don’t use its superlative – highest education. This paradigm shift, from teaching versus research versus community engagement to the common denominator of collective learning, is needed to give all of these activities their rightful and non-conflicting place on campus.
NMSU to offer Master of Engineering degrees
I am excited to know our proposal for Master of Engineering degrees has been finally approved by the Higher Education Department of New Mexico. We can now move quickly to develop the various educational programs including those online, and move our graduate enrollments to the next level. The timing couldn’t be better: we have completed initial round of discussions on the development of interdepartmental programs, ex. manufacturing, bioprocesses and bioengineering, aerospace engineering, etc. Very soon, we will develop marketing and communication plans for our MEng degree programs and identify the interdepartmental program directors.
These are exciting times indeed, at NMSU Engineering.
Engineering Dean’s Blog
Greetings Friends and Colleagues,
I’m very excited about the opportunities and positive things in the College of Engineering and would like to share with you news, plans and thoughts through this blog. I invite you to follow my postings. If there is anything which you think might be a good topic, please send me a note at email@example.com.